With all the uncertainty in life, each day I feel truly blessed to have an internal sense of strong roots. I don’t think I was born with it, I believe it is one of the greatest gifts my mother gave me. By her design and through her strong sense of commitment to her three children, she showed up for us consistently, no matter what life threw at her, come hell or high water. I am not talking about just the basics of caring for us, but there were times that her ability to give us even that basic care was greatly challenged and my mother didn’t just “survive,” she prevailed.
We all have dreams. But when we get trapped within our dreams, we get trapped in self-justification and self-manipulation. We use these tools to trick ourselves, to avoid taking the steps to face what it actually means to have the end result of your dreams—or your interpretation of what your dreams mean. Sometimes I wish everyone could just have what it is in their dreams that they think they need in order to get the “feeling” of fulfilling those dreams, because I think we would live each day rather differently.
One of the things I deal with on a daily basis is those unfulfilled places in people. When you are disconnected from yourself, you can be left feeling unfulfilled, and that feeling can cause you to wrongly identify what it is you need to live a certain way. When I think about the moments I feel the most fulfilled, they all stem from my roots. They are found in the layers of pure joy that come up in me every Thanksgiving when my mother reads Truman Willett. Or every Halloween when she reads James Whitcomb Riley’s Little Orphan Annie.Or every summer when we were kids, when she would put on different children’s plays and every afternoon brought a hike in the woods with the same lunch-on-a-stick. Or every Christmas, when she produces her beloved “Nutcracker” with her even more beloved students from the dance school she has had for over 40 years.
In my opinion, tradition is imperative in life. Straight from the old song itself: “Must know the way to make a proper home…must raise the family and run the home.” Although it is really great to have a family unit completely aligned in traditions on its own, sometimes you just have to take the initiative and make sure they happen. Just like making sure your workout happens for yourself or making sure you are truly doing right by yourself and those you care about, you can’t wait for other people or expect them to produce what you can do yourself. If you build it for yourself and for your children, they will show up for it long after you are gone. Even if you don’t have children, the ways you show up for and nurture the layers within yourself are just as important. To drive through all that is unknown, you have to have that strong sense of direction—and I strongly believe it comes in part from those positive traditions, be them yearly or daily.
The most important things in life are intrinsic. We only achieve physically by what we dowith our own physicality, not by what just is. The wordless truths I found on Karen Smith’s Instagram feed (@gippersmith) touched me at the core, highlighting the layers of roots that light a smile across my face daily. Her commitment to her family, her gifts as a dancer, her abilities as a teacher, her vulnerability as a woman, her positivity as a friend—there are so many layers of her brightness, strength, and personal truths. And I gotta say, she had me at the pug. My pug Ouch (RIP) was my everything—literally my soulmate, that dog!
So Karen, I have to thank you on behalf of these deep roots I am grateful for every day. Thank you for giving so much of yourself in order to instill traditions in the lives of these budding dancers, the newest generation to experience the wonder of life through the magical story of “The Nutcracker,” with all of its visions at play to the genius of Tchaikovsky’s score. I have been everything from a doll to a snowflake to a Spanish dancer to the Sugar Plum Fairy. My sister got to play Clara, and I think my time may have passed for that opportunity (or to be jealous), but she was the cutest! Last Christmas, my sister and I had the great joy of taking our daughters home to our mom’s to be in her production of “The Nutcracker.” My mom has many traditions within her traditions; she is always Mother Gigogne, so Penny and her cousin Marlo got to be under the giant skirt and come out and dance. It was incredible watching our daughters and our mother together on stage, celebrating a tradition we’ve cherished since we were young girls. Thank you to my mom and to Karen, for the stability you continue to create so that these young girls may fly! Piloting your dreams means you have to be living in them and that’s a dream come true.
All my love,
I’m a mom, a ballet teacher and Operations Manager for Montana Ballet Company, an outstanding non-profit ballet company and academy in Bozeman, Montana. I grew up a dancer in a non-dance family. My mom put me in lessons when I was about 7, assuming that it would be a passing fad, but I never stopped. My parents knew nothing about ballet, but they soon learned, and supported me through years of Summer intensives, lessons, performances, the works.
We moved to Bozeman, Montana when I was ten, with a population of about 40,000 now it was even smaller then. It’s not a place you associate with classical ballet, but as a university town, it has a great arts community. I had a teacher who was a visionary, and she made high quality ballet happen. That was about 32 years ago. As Bozeman is the kind of place that people really want to come to (it’s about 90 miles north of Yellowstone National Park and has spectacular skiing in the winter) the company never had a problem attracting guest artists and teachers.
Over my years growing up I had the opportunity to study with dancers and teachers from the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, and Modern companies like Doug Varone and Dancers and José Limóne. I spent my summers away at Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Milwaukee Ballet, the Joffrey, and I got to come home to Montana. While I was always being told that I was talented and had potential, (I was a “strong dancer” – oh how I came to hate those words!), I also lacked the ideal body for ballet. I was short, curvy, and just altogether “wrong.” So I doubted myself, I doubted my dreams, and I went to college. I continued to dance though; I loved it too much to give it up entirely, and I fell into teaching.
I left Montana for about 13 years, lived in many different places around the world, and then came back to Bozeman about 4 years ago. Upon returning I found that Montana Ballet Company had gone through some tough times but was beginning to flourish again under the direction of our current Artistic Director, Elizabeth DeFanti. The Academy has grown and trains about 150 students ages 3 to adult. We offer a full curriculum of classical ballet training and a full-year performance schedule, with most of our performances accompanied by the Bozeman Symphony or other local musicians.
I delight in giving these students what most would think impossible in a place like Montana. Most of our students will most likely not go on to careers with larger, professional companies, although some have, and others no doubt will. But while here, these students will get the full experience of what it feels like to dedicate yourself to something you believe in with all of your soul. To spend your days supported by, sweating with, and working alongside others who feel as you do. We are building these young men and women up so that they may go out into the world with grace. I don’t ever want any of them to doubt, to question, or to give up on their dreams.
We just wrapped our 32nd annual Nutcracker, with 3 performances reaching thousands of audience members in Bozeman and 1 in Big Sky over the course of 1 weekend. Through our Discover Dance program, we do an additional free performance and lecture/demonstration for close to 1,000 local school children. For many of them this is their first exposure to dance and the theatre.
I started my days emailing the cast any last-minute details, then maybe checking in with tickets sales to pull some comp tickets, then a check-in with volunteers about ushering or boutique sales, then over to the studio to teach a class, then to the theater to pull on my wig and gown and dance in Act 1, then stripping to check in with the front of the house, and finally ending the last performance day loading all of our sets out of the stage and into a cold, dark storage unit at 10:00 p.m. It’s not glamorous and I’m not getting rich, but seeing the excitement and exhilaration of the dancers as they exit the stage, or watching the younger ones as they watch from the wings, mesmerized by guest artists doing things they dream of someday doing makes it all worth it.
This is not something many people get a chance to be a part of, especially not in a small town in Montana. For too many people, the arts are are seen as expendable and are too easily brushed aside or marginalized, but the feeding of the spirit is important. I believe it is an essential part of nourishing the soul and creating a more compassionate, enlightened society. I’m honored to be a small part of that.
SOME #TAMILY MEMBERS WORKOUT IN THEIR LIVING ROOMS IN IOWA, OTHERS ON THEIR BALCONIES IN ITALY. WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU START #TAREALTIME?
My first exposure to TAM was about 8 years ago while we were living in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. But, I first started #TArealtime in January of last year – January 1 actually, the day Tracy announced her Instagram contest. I had recently moved back to Montana and was almost halfway through year three of Continuity. I had always dreamed of going to a vitality week so I told myself I’d start streaming for at least one month so I could enter the contest. Naturally I was hooked and didn’t stop after one month!
When I first started my journey with TAM, I had just had knee surgery and a new baby and was looking for something other than the running I had been doing. I wasn’t dancing, I wasn’t teaching, and I was looking for something that was missing. I dabbled but didn’t commit. A couple of years later we moved to Switzerland, where I had my second knee surgery and my second baby. Again I went in search of something other than what I had been doing (which wasn’t working). I was a fitness instructor for awhile, and was used to step, kickboxing, spinning, running – all the high intensity things I thought I needed to help with my constant weight struggles. But the satisfaction and results I needed just weren’t coming. Then I discovered Tracy’s book, “The 30-Day Method”, and after reading her intro and learning about her background in ballet, I was so intrigued that I just had to try again.
I had just started when we moved back to the states and it was “excerisus interuptus” as we transitioned home. Six months later, after a particularly indulgent holiday season, I bought Metamorphosis and never looked back! I usually work out upstairs in my “studio” as I call it – low ceilings, narrow and all. I’m actually quite lucky to have 3 dance studios with mirrors and sprung floors at my disposal whenever I’m at work, but surprisingly I don’t work out there that often. Even if I’m the only one there, I feel like I’m on display or that someone might come in at any moment.
WE ALL FACE CHALLENGES WHEN IT COMES TO BEING OUR HEALTHIEST SELVES—INSIDE AND OUT. WHAT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR JOURNEY?
The biggest challenge for me is food. I’ve never had a problem being self-motivated. I think all my years of devotion to ballet had something to do with that. If I have the time, I can happily work out for hours, on my own, wherever. But I’m not going to lie, I don’t cook, I don’t like to cook and I find the whole process of planning, prepping and preparing meals exhausting and tedious. (I’m so sorry my darling Emery – it must pain you to hear me say that!). You will never find me posting pictures of food on instagram because it would just be sad. Really, really sad.
But I do like to eat. I didn’t know much about healthy eating habits when I was younger and while I’ve educated myself in that regard, I still take the easy way out when I’m busy and stressed and tired. I’m trying to be better, for the sake of my kids and my husband as well as myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love nothing better than grilled wild salmon with a kale salad, I just don’t want to make it. There, I’ve owned it.
Oh, and gummy bears. Gummy bears are my stress food. Not lovely organic, sea salt dusted dark chocolate, but artificially colored and flavored nasty gummy bears. I’ve learned it’s best just not to buy them. Especially not the big bag from Costco.
The internal struggle is harder to define. I’m a quiet person, a shy person, a pleaser; I desperately want people to like me and, even today at 44, will morph into what I think others want me to be. I care way too much about what others think of me, and I think I tend to lose sight of what I actually think of myself, who I really want to be. I am constantly trying to remind myself that I am a legitimate person who deserves to take up great space in the world. I don’t take compliments well as I’m always waiting for the “but”. As in “you’re a very talented dancer, but…” I really struggle with always thinking that there must be a “but”. Others have said it here more eloquently: I’m working hard to know that I am enough.
HAS BEING PART OF THE COMMUNITY OF #TAMILY WOMEN HELPED YOU TO OVERCOME THIS? HOW SO?
Oh my goodness yes! But, i’m not going to lie, not at first. I would see all these women on IG with these amazing bodies and amazing form and my first reaction was insecurity; the thought that I’d never be as fit as them, as good as them, as whatever as them. I think that’s why I didn’t post any pictures with my face in them at first; just a leg, an angle, head down with hair in my face. But then something amazing happened, something that just doesn’t seem to happen enough with women these days. People wrote warm, supportive comments. They showed an interest in who I really am. They really seemed to care and to want to see what I was up to…without any “buts.” And that made me feel like maybe I could just take up a little more of that great space in this world.
ONE OF THE COOL THINGS I LOVE ABOUT THE #TAMILY IS HOW IT CONNECTS WOMEN ALL OVER THE WORLD. HOW ARE YOU INSPIRED BY OTHER WOMEN? WHO IN THE #TAMILY INSPIRES YOU? HOW DO YOU CONNECT WITH OTHER WOMEN IN THE #TAMILY BOTH ON INSTAGRAM AND IN REAL LIFE?
It’s crazy isn’t it! We’re out there, everywhere, so different from each other but sharing this one common thing that we’re passionate about. I just recently learned that one of the #tamily members lives in Kuala Lumpur and was there when I was living there too. I mean, small world, right? We could have passed each other on the street unknowingly and here we are connecting four years later.
What’s inspiring to me is how different we all are from each other, but yet we all share this one amazing commitment. And we can relate to each other because of that one thing, and can learn from each other because we are so different. I like to try to take something from each woman I see and know.
I’m not a cook like Emery (@emery5) but she inspires me to be at least a better one. I know nothing about beauty and skincare like Morgan (@morgenschick), but she makes me want to wash my face and take better care of myself. Monica (@monica_duarte) is just joyous and full of life. Gillian (@gilliancorey) sees the world differently and Shan (@shanmasters) makes me want to think and write and look at the world around me more deliberately. Elise (@ek4tam) inspires me to get up early and commit no matter what, no excuses. Nadine (@nadineandrea13) makes me remember to smile. And I could go on and on and on; tI am so thankful for all the women I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and those I’ve just seen on IG. There are so many amazing women out there! There is always at least one thing that I thing I can take away from each one of them and use to make myself a better me. Not make me just like them, but just a better me.
LIKE MOST WOMEN I KNOW, YOU ARE BUSY! WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR FITTING WORKOUTS INTO A HECTIC LIFESTYLE?
For me my TAM time is just non-negotiable. My family knows that even if it’s a holiday, or if we’re on vacation or visiting family, it’s part of the deal for me. Before streaming I brought my little personal dvd player with me everywhere. I’ve done free-style dance cardio outside in my brother’s yard in Portland and done muscular structure in hotel rooms. And I know it’s the same for a lot of us. Our TAM goes with us wherever we go.
I might miss one day if I must, but 6 days a week is my minimum. You just have to make it happen. Whether that’s getting up at 4:30 am or doing it late at night. Although if I don’t get it done before noon it’s really hard for me. I’ve had a few late-night TAM sessions, but it’s not my preference. I schedule my meetings, my haircuts, my appointments, whatever I can around when I know I’ll be working out. And if that means both kids are up in my “studio” with me, so be it. My son will jump on my mini-tramp. My daughter will dance on my ballet barre or freestyle around me. They think of Tracy like family now! And I do keep extra hand weights, light and heavy ankle weights, and a pair of sneakers at the ballet studio as well.
ONE THING THE #TAMILY HAS IS STYLE. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE OUTFIT TO EXERCISE IN?
Um, yeah, ok. Anyone who knows me, either in my “real life” or on instagram knows I love unique leggings. The more colorful and quirky the better. I like to justify my addiction with the fact that they are my “work clothes” too. When I teach I wear leggings; my days of pink tights and black leotards are long gone. And my younger students appreciate my Frozen and How to Train your Dragon ones. I don’t really discriminate price-wise, I have low and higher-end ones and wear them all; comfort is key. I’m short-waisted and curvy and can’t stand tight things around my waist (stems from all those pink tights), so brands with nice wide waist-bands are ideal for me: Werkshop, Teeki, Fit Mama and K-Deer are current faves. And some days I just love my big, baggy, comfy Hanes sweatpants that I’ve had like, forever. The top doesn’t matter too much, something that keeps the girls in check and a TA tank or baggy tee are my go-to’s!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TA MOMENT?
I actually have three. The first was January a year ago when I first started streaming and the instagram contest. I think it was like the first or second day maybe, and I posted a picture with my pug, Percy, in it. He’s actually in most of my pictures, he loves his #tarealtime! A notification popped up on my phone that @tracyandersonmethod made a comment on my picture and I was like, oh how nice, she has one of her “people” looking at posts and commenting. And then I read it and she said something about having a pug named Ouch when her son was younger. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that she actually did look at our posts and pictures and actually did want to interact with us. It was a lightbulb moment: we really are all connected and in it together so to speak.
The second was just last week. One of the lovely #tarealtime ladies on instagram organized an international secret sanTA for anyone who wanted to participate. We were supposed to send something small before the holidays just for fun. (My apologies to the person I drew, yours will be in the mail soon, Nutcracker slowed me down a bit!) So last week I had just finished up teaching a class and was rushing out to the theater for a tech rehearsal when a man walked in to the studio with a present. It turns out that the TAMILY member who got me has a nephew who lives in Bozeman. She had him take it on 4 flights to hand deliver it to me instead of putting in the mail. And he had tickets to the Nutcracker for the following weekend by the way. I still don’t know who it is, but it was an awesome moment!
The third would obviously have to be meeting Tracy the “fairy ninja muffin-top slayer” herself, for the first time , when I was in New York this past October with some of the other amazing #tamily women. That entire two days was life-changing. This group of women was just something incredibly special and I will treasure the memories of being with them for the rest of my life. And Tracy didn’t disappoint. Sometimes we build people we admire up so much in our minds and imaginations that they can’t help but fall short of expectations in person. Tracy exceeded expectations, and that is rare.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PRE-WORKOUT MEAL? FAVORITE INDULGENCE?
If it’s an early morning workout it’s just coffee. If it’s going to be an hour or so then either a protein shake (yes, I am partial to Tracy’s when I can get it) or a blended fresh juice of apples, cucumbers, beets, celery, spinach, kale, whatever we have around in the fridge that I can throw in the Vitamix. My favorite indulgence is definitely a nice rosé wine, (preferably a French or Swiss bubbly one). And if it’s enjoyed in a steaming hot epsom salt bath, all the better. Although the bathroom in our open floorplan home doesn’t have a door, so the kids find it irresistible to spend “quality time” with me whenever I try to make that happen.
HOW ELSE DO YOU FIND BALANCE IN YOUR DAILY LIFE?
That’s so hard. If I’m perfectly honest I don’t think I do. This is one my biggest challenges and something I continue to work on. I often feel like I’m not measuring up in many of the areas of my life. I think it’s called “impostor syndrome.” We put pressures on ourselves I think: trying to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect employee, the perfect daughter, the perfect teacher. It’s a juggling act and it sometimes feels like all the balls are going to come tumbling down.
I can tell easily enough if one area is being neglected more than another, and then you just make adjustments. Play a game or color with the kids. Answer those work emails instead of checking Facebook. Empty the dishwasher before heading upstairs to workout, go out for dinner or fly-fishing with the hubby instead of vacuuming. It’s usually pretty clear which area of my life is out of balance and needs tending too, it’s just then making the necessary choices to get back in balance. Except for during Nutcracker or other performances and when it comes to my #tarealtime! Then all bets are off and I just do the best I can!
CAN YOU SHARE YOUR FAVORITE POST-WORKOUT RECIPE FOR THE REST OF THE #TAMILY TO ENJOY?
I think we’ve already established that I’m not much of a cook, and sushi or sashimi are definitely my first choices, but I don’t make those at home. My favorite is actually a nice salmon fillet with a little olive oil and the Montana speciality spice “Alpine Touch” on the Traeger Grill. Especially if my husband does it. Even through the Winter, as long as it’s above zero Fahrenheit, the Traeger is always being put to use to grill something. A nice salad on the side and we’re done. Not much of a recipe I know, but I’m trying really hard to be authentic here!
ALL RIGHT, HERE’S A FREE PASS TO BRAG: IN ADDITION TO THE SUCCESS OF STICKING WITH IT, WHAT PROGRESS HAVE YOU MADE SINCE YOU STARTED #TAREALTIME AND BECAME PART OF THE #TAMILY, BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY?
I have gone up and down weight-wise my entire life. I’ve always been strong and fit, just not defined or sculpted. After 4 months of Metamorphosis and Continuity I had lost about 20 pounds, but more than that I had new-found definition. At my lowest weight I was lighter, but I certainly didn’t have the sculpted muscles that I found emerging. I’ll be 45 in a few months, and I am stronger, fitter, and more comfortable in my own skin than I was when I was 25 or 35. Mentally I have focus. I don’t get defeated by small ups on the scale, and I don’t have the huge swings from 102 pounds to 145 pounds that I used to have when my mind and will would give up and I’d eat myself into oblivion. If I’m withdrawing into my own mind too much or thinking defeatist thoughts, I’ll hop on instagram and get a virtual “snap out of it” by checking in with my #tamily!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR BODY? WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR INTERNAL SELF?
On a good day I have abs, and abs that I love! At (almost) 45 with two kids, my belly is pretty flat and it took a lot of hard work to get it that way. That makes me proud and happy. My legs are strong and muscular -they get me where I need to go and have done some amazing things and for that I’m grateful. Internally, I’m always working on that, but I’m a lover. I love humanity, all of it with a totally open mind, and you have to work really hard to make me lose that. I really want to believe with all of my heart that people are good. I’m maybe a touch naive, but I am an eternal optimist.
No, we’re not all super models, or Olympic athletes, or prima ballerinas, but we all have at least one thing about us that other people don’t have that is special. Find it, and celebrate it. It’s hard. We all look in the mirror and immediately start criticizing ourselves. I’ve spent my life in rooms with floor to ceiling mirrors whose purpose was to show me what I was doing wrong, what didn’t look right. And that lingers: Today, I look in the mirror and see the long nose, the wrinkles, the one droopy eye. But, I’m trying to be more like my four year old daughter.
She was born with a large red birthmark on her right cheek, something that we are programmed to see as a flaw, something that we see as needing to be fixed. Allegra will put on her fanciest princess dress or tutu, maybe a tiara, and sometimes even just my discarded ratty t-shirt or a random sports bra lying around that she drapes around her shoulders like an elegant cape. She will twirl and preen in front of the mirror. Many times she stops and just stares at herself, and I watch her and wait for the question about her birthmark, or the comment about how different or weird it looks to her. I wait for that critical thought that I assume must be forming in her mind, as it would be in mine. But then she says, “Oh Mommy, aren’t I just the most beautifulist in the whole world?” That just makes me want to cry, happily, because yes, she is, and we all are. We just forget our own inherent beauty somewhere along the way. If I do nothing else, I will make sure that my daughter never forgets it and I will try to remember it now and again too. We all should. I know it sounds a little bit like Stuart Smalley from that old SNL skit but it’s true.
ALL PHOTOS PROVIDED BY KAREN. FOLLOW HER ON INSTAGRAM @GIPPERSMITH.
FAVORITE CURRENT QUOTE:
“HAVE COURAGE AND BE KIND.”
– CINDERELLA, DIRECTED BY KENNETH BRANAUGH (2015)
ALL-TIME FAVORITE QUOTE:
“I DO NOT TRY TO DANCE BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE. I ONLY TRY TO DANCE BETTER THAN MYSELF.”
– MIKHAIL BARYSHNIKOV
CURRENT FAVORITE BOOK(S): Honestly, with two young kids, and my life as it right now I barely have time to read a magazine, but as I was a Lit. Major in college I always have a stack of books around that I’m trying to get to. My current stack includes: Clean by Alejandro Junger, M.D., Within by Dr. Habib Sadeghi, The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie, Misty Copeland’s autobiography Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.
ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIE(S):
Amelié, A Room with a View, and Wings of Desire.
ADVICE KAREN WOULD PASS ONTO YOUNG WOMEN THAT SHE
WISH SHE HAD KNOWN EARLIER ON IN LIFE: